I've witnessed most of the gradual disintegration of downtown Wheeling. When I was a teenager during the mid 1980's, I'd hardly say that downtown Wheeling was booming, but it did have a decent amount of foot traffic. Safe to say, that nowadays, it's a pit of grief and relative despair. There are a few exceptions:
1) A clean walking trail that runs adjacent to the wafting stench of the sewage treatment plant. The underutilized trail is pretty strong, but hardly a beacon for economic development.
2) Coleman's Fish Market & Jebbia's are exceptional establishments. Although I've found that the abrupt, barking voice over the intercom lends itself to confusion (Example - "My aunt Selma came in from Toledo last weekend. She said we got the best mango she ever had in her life. Josh, we need ya in the back. Yeah, best mangoes. They're GREAT!!!). The gruff attempt at a voice mimicking Tony the Tiger fails miserably as he begins to relentlessly cough and hacks up remnants of bile infused chewing tobacco.
3) I guess the Capitol Music Hall is back in action. After a taxpayer infusion of probably 1 million, and a steady flow of additional funding every year, the Linsly Extravaganza will be back stronger than ever. Ohhh, to hear those angelic teen voices spawned from the upper echelon of local attorneys. And what about that captivating reenactment of the "Who's on first base" Abbott & Costello routine. Or it might be Laurel and Hardy - I do not care.
My point - aside from a few reliable, surviving businesses, downtown Wheeling ain't gonna make some miraculous comeback. South Wheeling is archaic and drunken. North Wheeling is freakish and bizarre, and East Wheeling is "beyond methadone." I know the city council thinks that a B&O tax will solve the problem. Perhaps loosening some of the zoning restrictions. Maybe they could get a few more "antique" aka junk stores in Center Wheeling. Maybe not. It's my contention that few intelligent business people would look at downtown Wheeling and think, "Oh yeah, this is the place to start up my new venture. It will most certainly thrive in this business friendly environment."
OK. I think I've made my point. So how do you generate revenue in this valley of death? There's only one viable method I can envision and that would entail screwing the fuck out of everybody else. If you're guessing, he wants daily DUI checkpoints on every corner, you're getting warmer. Perhaps a tax on the obese crackhead hookers... How come we're the only city with strung-out prostitutes who somehow manage to defy the odds and gain 100 lbs. instead of losing one hundred? Again, you're getting warmer...
Here's my idea. We establish toll booths on I-70 right as you prepare to go through the Wheeling tunnel. Maybe something in the realm of $2.00 or $3.00. But here's the catch, we only charge you if you're license plates aren't Ohio, WV or PA. We also construct a similar toll booth at the top of I-470 in Bethlehem. The concept here is to screw everyone, but the regional residents. Both these interstates get an enormous amount of national traffic and we totally fail to take advantage of it. We've got this here gold mine - a little sliver of land in the panhandle of WV that nobody realizes can be EXPLOITED.
But hey, these are federal interstates. You can't just go putting up toll booths. Well, I think we're in a unique situation that might give us a leg up. Look at the geography of our state. All the money and power has always been driven to the center. The panhandle has always been left to basically fend for itself. The same is true with the geographical power of Ohio and Pennsylvania. East Ohio and Western PA have always been victimized like a prepubescent teenage boy in a Catholic church choir. The legislative power and funding works like some kind of anti-Hoover vacuum. Everything gets funneled in the opposite direction. And this is how you frame your argument for the "discriminatory toll booth."
If the Ohio county commissioners and the mayor of Wheeling presented a united front and pushed this issue, they just might be able to make it work. I thought it was interesting that Rahm Emmanuel is stepping down from his power position at the White House to launch a bid to become Chicago's next mayor. At first, you'd think this is a bigtime demotion, but I think Rahm might be on the right side of history. He sees the federal government gradually losing power. As this trend continues, it's logical to see a reemergence of local power like it was back in the days of prohibition. I believe this to be a reasonable assertion. Mayors, sheriffs, country commissioners, assessors, etc. should all become the logical beneficiaries. As the federal powers get slowly or suddenly usurped, something will have to fill the power void. My assumption would be that it trends back to the cities. Any of this sound familiar??? I'm talking about the inevitability of resilient communities.
Since Wheeling has virtually nothing to truly offer in the form of resilience, or goods and services for that matter, it's time to think outside the box a little. Your argument might sound something lie this - "Saf, well duh, why not just take the local roads around the tolls?" Well, it's more difficult and confusing than you might think. Plus, considering the unusual topography, it could be a major waste of time. Especially, if everyone is trying to save a few bucks. And hell, those that do make the effort to go around... our admittedly meager retail outlets could see some benefit. The trick is to make the amount of the toll annoying but not overbearing. A few bucks is hardly a big deal as the vast majority of drivers see it as "paying their dues." "Oh no, we're coming up on West Vagina. Hell, we gotta get through West Virginny! Those hillbillies are poor and last in the nation at everything." Trust me, they'll buck up.
Just make sure all proceeds go to development of downtown Wheeling. And yes, I know it doesn't really work like that. Fuck it, we need a identity for Wheeling - you know, the city with the weak toll booth. I prefer the term "meager toll booth." This would be a start in the right direction.
PS - I still like my idea for the fake boardwalk along the muddy banks of South Front Street that extends from the Casino to the Suspension Bridge. But that's not really a way to generate mass revenue. This one is.